To the indefatigable:
If David's long message isn't, when all is said and done, the last word on Tolkien etc., it's surely among the best. And I appreciate the decisive turn toward Spenser at the end. (One could make a turn toward Sidney as well, and even, if you like, toward Lady Mary Wroth -- about whose style the less said the better, I believe.)
I haven't thought long and hard yet about David's question as regards FQ. (I agree with ALP in re the Calender.) I think it was David Miller, at the Yale conference some years back, who remarked that Spenser's words are memorable, but it's very difficult to memorize much of his verse: this says a lot about his kind of writing, if not about its quality.
With regard to 'parts' of the poem that are more enjoyable long after reading than in the act, I don't get very far. One can conjure up from memory (a memory not of Spenser's language but of one's own efforts to visualize something) a certain place, a tableau, an iconic detail: the shady spot where Duessa seduces Redcrosse, Una's unveiling in another forest clearing, Ruddymane's bloody hands. But thinking about those and other passages makes me want to go back to the poem; ultimately, it was Spenser's language that planted those memories, and I'd like to clear up any distortions I've introduced, any nuances I've forgotten.
What David has suggested goes against Alpers' principle, which I've found quite durable: 'the depths of the poem are on its surface.' There is, on the other hand, a greatness in FQ to which Alpers didn't pay enough heed in his classic book: the poet's architectonic imagination. It's not, I think, what David has in mind, but I do enjoy contemplating, outside of the process of reading stanza by stanza, the connections between this episode in Book II and that other in III or IV, and so forth. FQ doesn't have _a_ structure, but it certainly contains many structural elements, some of them arising from linguistic minutiae, some from larger narrative units.
Cheers, Jon Quitslund